Women’s Reservations in Bihar and Children’s Health Outcomes

The objective of this study is to measure the causal effect of Bihar Government’s move to reserve 50 per cent of the panchayat seats for women – thereby leading to women representatives occupying 54 per cent of the seats – on children’s health outcomes. It is being carried out by Nishith Prakash (University of Connecticut) and Santosh Kumar (University of Washington). Women are underrepresented in political leadership positions throughout the world. In July 2008, women accounted for 18.4 % of parliamentarians worldwide. Recognizing this gender gap in political participation and decision making, the Indian Government mandated 33% reservation of panchayat seats for women. The reservation bill was enacted in 1993 by bringing in 73rd amendment, paving the way for election of around 1 million elected women at village, block and district level. While many Indian states reserved 33% of panchayat seats for women, the state of Bihar took the bold step of reserving 50% of the panchayat seats for them. Currently elected women representative occupy 54% of seats in Bihar panchayat. By now Bihar have completed at least one five year term. What has been the impact of women leadership on women and children health-being is the objective of this study? This study examines the impact of female leadership on children and women health outcomes in Bihar, specifically examining the effect on survival probability of children by looking at its impact of neonatal, infant, and child mortality outcomes. Additionally, in order to pin point the pathways, the project will also investigate the impact of women leadership on antenatal care, institutional delivery, and immunization status of children. In order to estimate the causal impact of female leadership, we will exploit the variation in program intensity (number of women leaders per 100,000 children) across districts. Our identification is based on the premise that children born in districts with more exposure to women leaders will benefit more compared to children born in districts with low exposure to women policymakers. In addition, we will also exploit the time-variation variation in the policy across Bihar and Jharkhand, an erstwhile part of Bihar, through using differences-in-differences estimation strategy. The policy data will be collected from election commission office in Bihar, and second and third waves of Reproductive and Child Health (RCH) survey will be used for the outcome variables. Despite the importance of female leadership on a range of developmental outcomes, little is known about the relative performance of women as policy makers, about their impact on child development. Given the limited evidence on the impact of gender quota in political leadership, the results of this research will inform the policymakers to evaluate the benefits of women quota. Since, many other states are currently debating to emulate similar policy; the results of this study will be of tremendous policy interest to examine the broader impact of this policy.

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